When the Metro board voted recently to rename the "Tenleytown" stop -- it will be called "Tenleytown-American University" in the future -- many residents of this comfortable Northwest Washington neighborhood were dismayed.

"They feel it is further erosion of the Tenleytown character; they feel that with all the development we have had that Tenleytown is losing its identity," said Joel Odum, a community activist who has been called the "mayor of Tenleytown."

That same concern is behind a new effort by the Tenleytown Historical Association to raise the profile of the community and to plan a 1991 bicentennial celebration for Tenleytown, which began 200 years ago as a roadside tavern near the point where Wisconsin Avenue meets River Road.

In 1814, Dolley Madison and other Washingtonians escaping the British attack on the federal city fled to the crossroads settlement at Tenleytown. There, from the highest ground in the District, they watched the smoke from the burning of the federal buildings.

During the Civil War, Fort Reno was constructed in the northeastern part of Tenleytown. In her book, "Tenleytown, D.C.: Country Village Into City Neighborhood," author Judith Beck Helm said that Fort Reno eventually became the largest and strongest fort defending the capital.

In more recent years, Tenleytown has been the scene of bitter battles over development.

Local developers see Wisconsin Avenue, the main artery through Tenleytown, as one of the city's last chances to compete with commercial growth in the suburbs.

But residents want to hold down development and retain the small-town flavor of their community, which contains some of the finest homes and shops in the Washington region.

"The big battle here was over the building at 4000 Wisconsin Avenue," Odum said. "The building was built and they did put a road through Archbold Park, but the road is going to be removed and we are getting the area around it downzoned."

Odum said that citizen opposition to that building "changed the city attitude toward zoning in residential neighborhoods ... so activism has really paid off."

All is relatively quiet on the development front at present in Tenleytown, Odum said. "We have been a neighborhood under siege for a long time, but now the community is getting it under control," he said.

The Tenleytown Historical Association, meantime, is attempting to focus the spotlight on what's positive about the community.

"We are not anti-development," said association president Jean Pablo, "... but anything that happens on Wisconsin Avenue affects the adjacent streets, and they are filled with homes and schools and churches ... and a rich history."

Pablo said her group wants "to keep the characteristics of the neighborhood that makes life so pleasant for us and one way to do that is to let people know about the area, its cultural traditions and its heritage."

Since the historical association was formed last year, members have worked to identify historic homes and sites in the area and develop a walking map showing those points.

"We have one house, 'The Rest,' a great big red brick house built in the early 1800s and still standing today," Pablo said. The house, believed to be the oldest in Tenleytown, is a private home located in the 4300 block of 39th Street NW.

Other important sites in Tenleytown, Pablo said, include the Gloria Point Park, the highest point in Washington, near where River Road and Wisconsin Avenue form a point, and the cemetery behind Eldbrooke Methodist Church, at 4100 River Rd. NW, which contains graves of early Tenleytown residents, including some who died in the mid-1850s.

Pablo's great-great grandparents, Aloysius and Alice Queen, are both buried in that cemetery.

The historical group headed by Pablo has been researching old maps and records to develop a proposal that would define more precisely the boundaries of Tenleytown today.

Van Ness could be used as the boundary for one end of Tenleytown and Western Avenue for the other end, Pablo said. The eastern boundary could be Reno Road and the western boundary, 42nd Street and River Road, she said.

But the Tenleytown area actually takes in a much larger section of Northwest Washington, she said.

Pablo, for instance, lives in the 4700 block of Verplank Place, in American University Park, which is outside the boundaries that her group is considering for Tenleytown.

Even so, Pablo considers herself a resident of the greater Tenleytown area.

"Tenleytown was once a Post Office designation with a huge sweep of land," said Pablo, who has a doctorate in history from Georgetown University and works as a private consultant. Her connection with the Tenleytown Historical Association is a volunteer effort.

"In the early days of Washington, they had the federal city which went to Florida Avenue, then Georgetown and then one big county of Washington that stretched from the Potomac to Anacostia ... . Tenleytown was the only town between the Potomac and the Anacostia rivers," Pablo said.

Today, Tenleytown generally includes parts of AU Park, Wakefield, North Cleveland Park and Forest Hills, said J.D. Haardt, a marketing representative for the Rufus C. Lusk & Son Inc. real estate information service.

Haardt said that house prices in the 20016 Zip code area, which includes Tenleytown, averaged about $315,000 during March, up over the March 1989 average price of $292,500. But prices there, like in other parts of the Washington region, are down from the peaks of the late 1980s. Haardt said the 1989 average price for homes sold in the Tenleytown area was $349,500, while the 1988 average price was $317,000.

Marvin Tievsky, president of the Friendship-Tenleytown Citizens Association, the oldest group of its kind in the city, said that the major problems for residents today are traffic "and a certain amount of crime, mostly theft from automobiles from people leaving stuff in their cars when they go into some of the stores and movies."

The community, he said, provides "fantastic transportation," including buses and two Metro stops, Tenleytown and Friendship Heights. There is a range of restaurants, movie houses, a library branch and shopping of all kinds -- "from Sears on one end to Mazza Gallerie on the other end, with dozens of other smaller shops and stores."

One of Tenleytown's oldest residents is Garth Beaver, 85, who has lived in a two-story colonial-style brick house in the 4100 block of Harrison Street NW since 1950.

Beaver's parents initially bought the house because "they wanted to live in a house that stood by itself," he said. The other virtue was the land around the house where the family could have a garden.

"They bought it to grow tomatoes, radishes, beans, spinach, several other things" Beaver said. Many of the same foods grow in his garden today, although he said he has "shifted a little bit more to flowers."

A 1927 graduate of American University, Beaver retired from the U.S. Navy Department in 1969. But for many years, he rode the trolley car down Wisconsin Avenue to get to work.

The commute took about half an hour, he said. Later, he rode the buses that replaced the trolleys.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Tenleytown was "much quieter and less congested" than it is today, Beaver said.

He has remained in his house, marrying and raising a daughter, because the area still has many qualities that he found attractive 40 years ago.

"I like the people and the area," he said. "We have good schools, nice churches, plenty of banks and police protection is pretty good."

What the area needs, Beaver said, is less development. Nonetheless, he said he hopes that Tenleytown gets a "good clean filling station, a ticket office for coming attractions and a good high-class dry-cleaning establishment."